What's the purpose of the criminal justice system?
Punishment — making offenders pay their debts to society — is the obvious answer. But sometimes our society forgets about another important component: rehabilitation. In other words, bringing offenders back into the fold of a productive, law-abiding society.
Cole County's court system gets this. The county has alternate treatment programs: DWI Court, Adult Drug Court, Veterans Court and Co-Occurring Treatment Court, aimed at offenders struggling with both substance abuse and mental health.
Last Thursday, a celebration was held for nine graduates of these alternative courts. Seven of the graduates came from the DWI Court, one from the Veterans Court and one from the Adult Drug Court.
Shawna Davis, of Jefferson City, was a DWI Court graduate who said she was in a "bad place" when she started the program, as we reported last week. Now, she says her life is in a better direction as well as the lives of her family.
"If you are really dedicated to the program and to your sobriety, you will take those extra steps to continue to further yourself in life," Davis said in the story.
We commend Davis and the other offenders-turned-graduates. Alternative courts such as these are proved to reduce recidivism. We hope that's the case with the newest graduates of the programs.
The Alternative Treatment Program was started by former Presiding Judge Pat Joyce, who retired from the bench at the end of 2020. More than 600 graduates have gone through these courts.
Cole County Judge Cotton Walker has since taken over the program.
"These are folks who, if they don't get the proper help, will continue to be in the criminal court system," Walker said. "We want to get them the mental health help they need so, long after they graduate, they understand how they can take care of themselves."
We congratulate the graduates and we commend Joyce, Walker and everyone else in the county court system who have worked to make these programs a success.